On past as prologue

As I barrel through a ton of older literature, I’ll be posting quotes that read like they were written today —

From: Alte Grahl-Madsen, Chapter 21: “Identifying the World’s Refugees” (1983), in Peter Macalister-Smith and Gudmundur Alfredsson (eds.), The Land Beyond: Collected Essays on Refugee Law and Policy by Alte Grahl-Madsen (2001), p. 259.

Stemming the Tide

It is part of the tragedy of our times that several states by various methods are seeking to prevent or at least to discourage refugees from reaching their shores to seek sanctuary. Military security zones may be established along frontiers and coastlines, making penetration hazardous, to say the least; or vessels carrying would-be refugees may be intercepted at sea and ordered to return with their human cargo. Visa exemption agreements between certain states may be abrogated, simply in order to prevent an uncontrollable inflow of asylum seekers by air, sea or land.

Just as there may be collective decisions of eligibility, some governments have of late adopted policies that virtually amount to collective non-eligibility for members of certain ethnic and other groups, which means that members of these groups may be returned to their homeland without ado, immediately upon arrival. Others may be returned to a country through which they have passed en route, on the pretext that that country is their country of first asylum, very likely adding to the number of refugees in orbit.

In order to reduce further the pull factor, or in other words to make refugee life as unattractive as possible, asylum seekers may be denied the right to work and may be restricted in their movements, even confined to a camp. There has also emerged the concept of humane deterrent, the idea being to make living conditions in camps as miserable as possible so as to deter others from considering flight as a viable alternative to there fear, anguish, and misery at home.

In May 1979 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by UNHCR and the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam concerning the “ordinary departure” of persons from Vietnam, the purpose being to eliminate at least one “push factor”.

The United Nations has now initiated an attempt to find ways and means to avert future flows of refugees. It is not intended to abridge the human right to leave any country, including one’s own. Instead, the General Assembly of the United Nations has turned its attention to the root causes of refugee problems, condemning “all policies and practices of oppressive regimes as well as aggression, alien domination and foreign occupation, which are primarily responsible for the massive flows of refugees throughout the world and which results in inhuman suffering.”

If anything shall result from this initiative, action will be necessary on many factors, ranging from penetrating studies of the limits of international law to practical and economic measures that can help states to solve their internal problems without recourse to oppressive policies of the kind that may cause mass flows of refugees.

Do we glimpse the contours of a brave new world?

footnotes removed. Originally published as “Identifying the World’s Refugees” in The Global Refugee Problem: US and World Response, Gilburt D. Loescher and John A. Scanlan (eds.), The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 467 (1983) 11-23.


On push factors [2]

Via the International Crisis Group,

Burundi again faces the possibility of mass atrocities and civil war. Escalating violence, increasingly hardline rhetoric and the continued stream of refugees (more than 200,000) indicate that divisions are widening, and the “national dialogue” is doing little to relieve the mounting tensions. According to Crisis Group’s sources as well as media reports, it appears that President Pierre Nkurunziza and those around him intend to use force to end the protests that have been held in Bujumbura since April. The president made public an ultimatum giving the “criminals” seven days to lay down arms. Révérien Ndikuriyo, the Senate president, cryptically warned on 1 November that the police would soon go to “work” and asked district heads to identify “elements which are not in order”. The language is unambiguous to Burundians and chillingly similar to that used in Rwanda in the 1990s before the genocide.

The one national institution capable of arresting the slide, the army, is fracturing and nearing breaking point. Firm and decisive diplomatic intervention at a minimum is required to prevent a civil war and its inevitable massacres.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s 27 October decision to exclude Burundi from the “African Growth and Opportunity Act” is an important signal of his country’s growing concern, but it is not enough. The African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) issued a strong communiqué on 17 October but is still deferring to the East African Community. However, that regional body may be too divided, and its chief mediator, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, may be too preoccupied with forthcoming elections at home and the implementation of the struggling peace deal in South Sudan. The AU PSC, with the active support of the U.S., UK, and European Union, should, therefore, follow through on the decision expressed in its communiqué and convene a meeting of Burundian government and opposition representatives in Addis Ababa, if such a meeting cannot be quickly convened in Kampala under the chairmanship of President Museveni. It should make clear that the current situation is unacceptable and that it will intervene if President Nkurunziza does not change course.

In particular, the AU PSC’s threat of an African-led peace implementation mission in the event of further deterioration must be made more credible through member-state support and public pledges of donor support by the U.S. and others. In addition, the AU, the U.S., UK and other concerned members of the international community should quietly stress to the Rwandan and Tanzanian government that they are needed to play more constructive roles.

(links in original.)

Related: see Ambassador Power’s statement, here.

See also: Burundi’s crisis, explained via Vox; 12.11.15 update: Joint NGO statement urging coordinated global response to the escalating human rights crisis in Burundi; 10.11.15 HRW report, President’s Speech Instills Fear as Killings IncreaseShould we be using the G-word in Burundi? by Kate Cronin-Furman and Michael Broache; 24.11.15 ICG update; 22.01.16 In the shadow of genocides past: can Burundi be pulled back from the brink? by Rene Lemarchand

On push factors

Emanuel Stoakes in Foreign Policy’s Dispatch blog discusses testimonies and documentary evidence shown in the new Al Jazeera documentary, “Genocide Agenda” that purports to link the Myanmar government to anti-Muslim incitement.

The film points to a multi-pronged strategy by the government to encourage anti-Muslim hatred across the country, while pursuing policies against the Rohingya that legal scholars in the film refer to as “genocidal.”

In 2011, Myanmar’s reformist government launched a cautious process of liberalization that removed long-standing restrictions on opposition party activity, allowed for relative freedom of the press, and led to the release of many political prisoners. Yet the country’s gradual opening has also been blamed for the emergence of ferocious sectarian violence between the Buddhist majority and members of the Muslim minority. This conflict is often depicted as organic and spontaneous, a grassroots eruption of stored-up grievances enabled by new freedoms.

Yet what this version of events ignores is that government officials and members of the military elite have played an active role in fomenting interethnic tensions. Evidence obtained by Al Jazeera shows conclusively that the recent surge of anti-Muslim hatred has been anything but random. In fact, it’s the product of a concerted government campaign clearly aimed at promoting instability and undermining the opposition by stirring up the forces of militant nationalism.


For more on Burma (/Myanmar): see Christian Caryl in Foreign Policy on the politicalization of religion influencing the upcoming national election.

Regarding early(-er) warning of mass atrocities, see John Sides at the Monkey Cage talking with Jay Ulfelder about the Early Warning Project. Regarding legal analysis on definitions, see Marko Milanovic at the EIJL: Talk! blog discussing the recent decision of Vasiliauskas v. Lithuania (ECtHR).